LA MAISON DU DÉLICE
Flicking through the channels I saw a face I hadn’t seen in years: Brian Molko (Belgian-born, British-American musician and songwriter, the lead vocalist and guitarist of the rock band Placebo.) I didn’t recognise him at first. He was being interviewed on the kind of old-time chat show the French do sell well: presenter and guest in a black studio, sat on orange lounge chairs, sipping glasses of wine.
Perfect lunchtime telly.
All was set now for le déjeuner to commence: I cut into the sausage.
The Sausage. Such a satisfying, inherently stabilising foodstuff. From the hot bite of chorizo to the graphic stink of andouillette, a love of minced fat and meat unites the world. The Brits have black pudding: a sausage as gory as it gets, yet with a light flavouring and texture that renders its embrace tender.
This one was of a similar family to the saveloy. Its rubbery skin snapped as I stabbed a piece onto my fork. Next I squeezed it inside the potato. The pillowy surface swallowed it whole. When I withdrew the fork, sausage and mash - body and soul - were united, and I was ready: ready for my first bite. At that moment, every time, the symptoms of Anthrophobie Suisse lifted and La Maison du Délice did not exist. I was free, free of this place…
La Maison du Délice was one of three residential towers (Délice, Jouie and Plaisir) owned by Societé Juridique de Législateurs Unis de Suisse, a co-op of legal firms, to house fallout from their profession: the disgraced, the accused, abandoned spouses, and plea-deal prisoners. Not that we used the P-word: we were ‘residents’. And there was nothing about the grounds that screamed prison - watchtowers were tiny cameras, prison wardens were discreet, the perimeter fence was lined by tall ferns - all very enlightened. The official name for whatever this was: Accouchement assisté. ‘Assisted confinement’. Big business for a country that flourishes in the grey zones of law.
They could have put me in a tomb or a palace, however. The point was I was in Switzerland - that was my punishment - and the drab surroundings of La Maison du Délice were a symptom, not cause, of my decline.
The place encapsulated the hopelessness of my predicament. It was yellow. Inside and out, a cadaverous hue. The corridors had that cat-food stench - the smell of giving up - and the sky above La Maison du Délice was grey, grey, always grey. Even when it was sun and blue skies, it was grey - grey and sombre mourning - there was nothing to stimulate. Nothing to slap me across the face, shake me from my slumber, tell me SNAP OUT OF IT. There was just a telly and a kettle and all the hours in the world. Thank God for pommes aligot…
I chewed another doughy mouthful as I watched Brian Molko. He spoke French beautifully. He expressed the challenges of pushing himself as a musician after several albums and credited the fans for remaining faithful as the band evolved. He used a phrase to describe their support - “autorisation de grandir” - which I translated roughly as ‘permission to grow’.
The concept really chimed. Permission to grow. I considered it, as I prepared my next mouthful: just as we freeze our characterisation of other people in a certain way - most commonly who they were when we first met - we do so to ourselves. Should we not, then, give ourselves permission to grow? How else will we not end up fighting to keep hold of a person we ought to release, or plough on towards a goal in which we no longer believe?
I punctured the last slice of sausage with my fork and scooped on the last dollop of potato. (I measured my proportions of sausage and mash very exactly so as not to run out of one before the other.) I lifted the fork to my mouth and paused. Always bittersweet, this particular moment was especially poignant as it would be the final mouthful. In it went. I chewed and massaged the flavours across my tongue. All too soon it was over. I could have chased my man and woman down the hall. Begged them encore un s’il-vous-plaît! But no. After that, there would be no more.
I put down the plate and laid back on the couch, considering this Molko-induced breakthrough. Permission to grow. Who am I? What brought me here? Was it inevitable? What were the junctions? Would I choose a different path if I did it again?
Brian Molko’s accent, French inflected with Scottish and American, was pleasing. These soft tones, combined with a full belly, brought the urge to close my eyes, just for a minute, and nap...
Anathema. Alien. Abhorrent. I never napped. To nap was a dereliction of duty - my duty being work - but it was more a chemical reaction than a willed act.
Anthrophobie Suisse + Pommes Aligot = Daily Nap
I can’t deny I came to enjoy a siesta. There was something taboo about it - the joy of submission to that encroaching tiredness - especially as there was so much I should have been doing. But that postprandial sleepy feeling...to resist was impossible.
I curled up on the couch. It was a two-seater, with negligible cushion depth, made of a fake leather that clung to the skin. A terrible couch, then. And still I slept soooooo soundly in its cradle.
The telly cut to footage of a live performance by Placebo. I closed my eyes. Drift and sink...enter that in-between state...where realities blur, worries lift, and truths coalesce...I liked it there...from another dimension I heard Placebo play ‘The Bitter End’.
That song, as well as ‘Pure Morning, ‘Every You Every Me’, ‘Special Needs’ (they had so many hits) defined a particular time for me. The Troubled Teens. Their music connected with a boy who was isolated, trapped, and angry. There was anger in Placebo’s music but it was not angry. These were songs of release. They soundtracked my dreams of escape from the Jesuit School.
While my father was in military service, we lived internationally. I enjoyed that life. Yes, we’d be housed in joyless military bases, but the real world, and all its vibrant colours and flavours, was never too far away. Eventually, however, father left the Army. He became a teacher in a boarding school in the wilds of North West England. The school was run by Jesuits. I didn’t really understand what Jesuits were (still don’t), but I can say that that place made me feel both detached from civilisation and as if I’d been transported back in time. It was one of those institutions that never changed: old boys shared experiences and language - phrases like ‘dits’, ‘runs’, ‘sheets’ - across centuries. Let me share a story that illustrates how archaic that place was.
There was a computer. Singular. It was kept inside The Computer Room. To access The Computer Room one had to book appointments with (no explaining this) the school nurse. The nurse would find the key to The Computer Room, escort you to the attic space, unlock the door, then leave you for your allotted time. These engagements felt sinful - it was perverse to liaise with this demonic invader. Even into the late Nineties, I suspect the school believed that computers were a passing fad, a money pit to be avoided.
The Computer Room contained an Amstrad 286. This bulky box sat alone in that musty alcove (probably a broom cupboard in a previous life). Silent, somnambulant, a meditating Buddha, offering its wisdom and power to whomsoever should venture into its realm.
Alas, there was no IT assistant or computer boffin at the school to reveal its ways. Therefore one was terrified to touch it, lest it set off a terrible chain reaction. Computer devices nowadays are more empathetic to the user, but then...the push of a key could have dire consequences for the entire school.
Why am I banging on about The Computer Room?
Such meandering reminiscences were familiar in La Maison du Délice. Trapped in no-man’s-land, my mind wandered, journeyed down scattered rabbit holes, seeking to reverse-engineer some meaning perhaps?
In dreams, I travelled to distant times and far-off places.
From somewhere Brian Molko sang, over and over, “See you at the bitter end.”